A friend used an interesting word in an email to me the other day. The word was “autarchism” which I confess I had to look up.
Autarchism (from Greek, “belief in self rule”) is a political philosophy that upholds the principle of individual liberty, rejects compulsory government, and supports the elimination of government in favour of ruling oneself and no other. Not a bad schema, one might suppose, particularly as it reminded me of an interesting snippet which I came across the other day. Apparently, in the UK, a child passenger in a car must “be restrained in a child’s car seat from the age of three to twelve, or up to 135cm in height.” Good grief, I know pensioners shorter than that. There is a fine of £500 – driver is responsible – if convicted and your kid is caught hanging out the window, as happens a lot here. The UK has turned itself into a nanny state and the election outcome the other day demonstrated its people don’t seem to have a clear idea of what kind of Government they want.
I was a fifties kid. I survived being born to a mother who smoked and drank while she carried me. She took aspirin, ate blue cheese dressing, tuna from a tin, and didn’t get tested for diabetes.
My father painted my first cots with brightly coloured lead-based paint. I remember I used to suck the yellow off one end. I brought my mother presents of worms from the garden, having sucked them clean first. There were no childproof lids on medicine bottles, doors or cabinets and I rode my bicycle in the middle of the road without a helmet. I fell out of trees, broke the odd bone and nobody got sued. I walked across roads to friends’ houses and knocked on the door or rang the bell or just threw pebbles up at the windows. Local teams had try outs and not everyone, especially me, made the team. Those who didn’t, like me, had to learn to deal with disappointment. Later, I hitched rides home if I didn’t have the bus fare and I was too late to walk four miles. Later still, I thumbed rides all over Europe, often with little clear idea of final destination. I once went to Yugoslavia. By accident. I was originally headed for Barcelona and the driver who picked me up just outside Paris was going somewhere else. I rode in vehicles without seat belts or air bags. Riding in the back of a farm lorry – especially a thousand miles from home – was a great way to get a suntan.
As a child, I drank water from the garden hosepipe, not from bottles, shared one soft drink with four friends from one bottle and nobody actually died. I ate cakes, white bread and real butter and drank pop with sugar in it, but I didn’t get fat because I was out burning calories all the time. I peed in the woods. I didn’t have an X-Box, a Nintendo, and for the early part of my childhood, TV. I didn’t have a mobile phone and neither did anybody else. So, if I got caught smoking in the shrubbery by a friend’s father there was no-one to call and I had to take my punishment like a man and hoped he wouldn’t tell my parents. The same went for the time we borrowed a friend’s father’s twelve-bore to go rabbit hunting. Police were less to be feared than parental wrath. We built go-karts out of abandoned prams, neglecting to include trivial and unnecessary additions like brakes. Frictional resistance in the bushes or an inadvertent soaking in the lime quarry prompted more careful design.
I had freedom, dealt with failure, celebrated success and learned responsibility. My generation has produced some of the finest and most inventive minds the world has ever known. We should spare a pitying thought for today’s kids, enslaved to interfering Governments, nanny states, seatbelts, Nintendo and Facebook. I wonder if they’ll do as well as us.